Despite the best efforts of artists of all types, the experience of wartime remains a difficult subject to capture. Whether poetry, nonfiction, or paintings, a divide may remain between artist and viewer. Some of that divide is eaqsed with the best military documentaries–seeing the action, horror, bravery, and reality of war through a camera can make the experience far more visceral. Serving as an eye-opening medium, military docs really allow viewers to fully understand events and factors that can lead to full-scale decimation.
With so many military documentaries out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out which one really captures a certain time period’s atmosphere. But not to worry: The following titles are the best of the best when it comes to providing gripping and accurate information any viewer can get lost in. Get streaming with the best military documentaries now available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
The Hornet's Nest
Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos enter a war torn Afghanistan to document a perilous mission. Meant to capture a three-day boots-on-the-ground mission, the Boettchers find themselves in the midst of nine days of combat. The soldiers followed in this documentary fight valiantly against enemy forces able to conceal themselves within the desert landscape while father-and-son efforts place the viewer firmly in their midst.
Task Force Faith
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir is now perhaps the best known conflict of the Korean War, although at the time, the armed engagement led to strife and blame amongst U.S. forces, with Marines and the Army blaming each other for the failure of the Americans to prevail. Now recognized as a strategic retreat much like the Miracle of Dunkirk in spirit, what was salvaged from the battle was mostly thanks to the “Task Force Faith”. The Regimental Combat Team 31 faced immense casualties during the battle (as many as 95% of the men were killed, wounded, or captured). Despite this, the men struck out bravely and persevered, allowing more of their comrades to escape with their lives. In this moving documentary, some of the veterans speak openly about that day for the first time.
In a time when narratives about the Holocaust are coalescing in alarming fashions, a documentary that refutes some of the more pernicious ideas about Jewish experiences during World War II is more vital than ever. About Face centers the narratives of young Jewish refugees who, after escaping the hell of Nazi Germany or occupied Europe, went back to help bring an end to the horrors for others as well.
D-Day is likely the single most well-known battle of the modern world. But this documentary gleans new, and valuable, insights by bringing some of the veterans who survived back to Omaha Beach and exploring their individual contributions as well as the celebrations that erupted along the French Coast after D-Day’s success.
The Invisible War
This heart-breaking documentary reveals an infrequently explored aspect of war—the harm done to some soldiers by the very people they are meant to be fighting alongside. This 2012 documentary spurred a wave of legislative action to protect women and men who experienced sexual assault while enlisted and to reduce the rates of assault in the military overall. Not only did this documentary change the culture for enlistees, it is a moving look at the experience of women in the Armed Forces, from Brigadier General Wilma Vaught to Coast Guard vet Kori Cioca.
A New Nation for All
If you’re looking for a comprehensive retelling of the American Revolution, look no further than this documentary. A New Nation for All provides riveting details about the events leading up to the war, as well as the struggles American soldiers were forced to confront during their fight for freedom. While many films in the past have captured different facets of the American Revolution, this documentary is a solid jack-of-all-trades that makes for an enjoyable watch.
Related: 10 Revealing Revolutionary War Books
In March 2003, a squadron of Apache fighter helicopters flew into Iraq. This documentary reconstructs their experience in the Second Iraq War in a manner unlike nearly any other military documentary available. Although the film struggles a bit due to its lack of grounding context—exactly what this squadron is meant to be doing is surprisingly unclear—it’s a thrilling ride showing off the (literal) heights of war.
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor is one of the most powerful and moving documentaries on Netflix right now. This anthology style docuseries takes a new conflict and new cast of individuals on for each episode. Despite the varying elements, they all have something in common: Each central figure has earned a Medal of Honor from the United States military. As a way of paying tribute to these heroes, the documentary takes their stories, re-enacts them, and includes interviews to create a cohesive narrative.
Related: 10 American Wars, One Book Each
Age of Tanks
This four-parter explores how tanks became an integral part of warfare, from World War I to the modern day. Valuable insights abound, from the fact that tanks originated primarily from a need to disable the barbed wire that surrounded trenches while allowing soldiers access to artillery without unnecessarily endangering their lives to the connection of Nazi Germany and the vast proliferation of tanks around the world.
This documentary offers a rather lighter look at warfare. Examining historical reenactments, Being Napoleon centers upon a modern reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo—and two men who are vying to become the ideal Napoleon impersonator.
Five Came Back
This intriguing documentary features the thoughts of filmmakers and stars like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Meryl Streep. The doc is a three-part series that focuses on five legendary Hollywood directors—John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens—who enlisted in World War II as filmmakers. Their footage was used to create propaganda films and Hollywood films alike. Sifting through over 100 hours of material, each modern-day director offer their thoughts on the pieces, as well as the historical impact the works of these directors would have for years to come.
Buried Secrets of WWII
It’s easy to think of archeological digs as the purview of only ancient historians. But as this fascinating docu-series proves, insights can abound in the modern era as well. From the island of Malta to Papua New Guinea, 3D expert Pete Kelsey and historian Martin K.A. Morgan explore what the land can reveal about World War II.
Related: 12 Best World War II Movies Every History Buff Should Watch
Featured still from "The Age of Tanks" via LOOKSfilm